Sunday, April 10, 2011

Writing Tools Part 5: Real Tools for Real Writers

I thought maybe Part 4 was going to be the final post about the tools of the writing craft. Last night, though, after I had gone to bed and was hovering in that spot between waking and sleeping, I thought, By Jove, I've not told them about the bloody physical tools involved in writing! Sometimes I think with a bad British accent, especially when I'm half asleep. So, without further pontification on my part, here are some physical tools that could or should be in your arsenal.

Quill Pen and Parchment: Okay, maybe not, but pen and page are probably two of the most important tools you can have in your physical toolbox. In most cases, writers never stop thinking (Unless, of course, you're Dan Brown, and you never think nor do you do good research if you research at all). Because of this, you need to have something handy to write down the thoughts you have. You never know when that best-seller idea might strike. In fact, if you're a glutton for punishment or wildly wealthy with time on your hands, you could write an entire manuscript using a pen and paper. I recently read Under the Dome by Stephen King. In his notes at the end of the book, King comments that he wrote the entire first draft of Under the Dome using a pen and paper. This is no small feat considering the word count of this book is over 330,000. Of course, I could be wrong about that. It might have been Duma Key, which I had read just previous to Under the Dome. Either way, it's pretty amazing.

Laptop/Computer/Typewriter: After pen and paper, some type of instrument that you can use to write out your manuscript is necessary. In most cases, today, this will be a computer of some type. I use a MacBook Pro laptop with Microsoft Word as my weapon of choice. Whatever you use, the most important aspect of writing is that you place your fingers on the keyboard and begin.

Thesaurus: You may be one of those people that stores words and their synonyms and antonyms in your brain and you may never need a thesaurus. My mind doesn't work like that, so I do. When it comes to thesauri, Roget's Thesaurus is probably the standard. My personal favorite, and the one I use the most, is the Dictionary/Thesaurus software that came with my MacBook. When I'm revising, I pop it open and it sits there on my desktop, ready for use. My main goal is to replace weak nouns or verbs or nouns/verbs that I've tried to strengthen with adjectives or adverbs. I simply type in the word that I need a synonym for and it shows me lots of options.

Pocket Recorder: This tool isn't really a necessity, but it's a viable replacement for the pad and paper as long as the batteries aren't dead and you haven't lost it.

A Quiet Time and Place to Work: When you write, it's generally a good idea to do it in a place where you can have absolute focus. Out in a room where there's tons of activity, television or kids running around, is a horrible place to write. There have been so many times where interruptions have completely obliterated my train of thought and I've had to sit for ten minutes and refocus on what I was trying to write. There is an exception to this. When I'm writing my initial draft, I enjoy having my ipod on and music playing. Sometimes it even seems to help me with what I'm writing. On a personal level, though, I have a harder time concentrating when I'm reading and revising if I have my headphones in. In order to eliminate this distraction, but still enjoy music, I flip the switch on the radio. For whatever reason, having the radio on in the back ground is much less distracting than having earbuds in listening to music.

The second part of this tool is time. If you are to write consistently, you must set aside a time when you are going to write. Never setting a time or writing at different times can be devastating because you may never actually find the time. However, if you've stated to yourself and your loved ones, "5am to 7am every day of the week is my time to write." You'll write. Writing truly is work and as such, you have to schedule it as if it were a job. The difference is that you get to dictate exactly what the job will entail.

My writing time is from about 10pm until I get too tired to write. This works for me because I can sit in bed with my wife laying beside me and work in the solitude of a house that is as quiet as a church on a Monday.

Library/Internet: As someone who has dabbled in Historical Fiction, I know that it's extremely important to have research resources. The library, in my mind, is one of the best resources available. If you have access to a university library, that's even better. I look at the Internet (specifically the World Wide Web) as a secondary resource because you really have to vet what you find. Wikipedia is great, but there have been times where it's dead wrong. One recent "for instance" was when the page about the University of Texas Longhorn's basketball arena was changed to show that it was owned by Kansas State University. Obviously, the practical joke was hilarious, but for anyone using that page as a research tool, they may have been mislead, because in truth, K-State really does own UT basketball! ;)

Your Brain: This is probably the most important tool. Without it, you really have no need for the other tools. Your brain is what processes all of the information you take in and allows you to use that information in your writing.

Well, hopefully, this about covers the basic tools that you need for writing.

That's all for now.

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